I shot a roll of thirty-two exposures
My camera groans beneath the weight it bears
-- The Mountain Goats, “Your Belgian Things”
I don’t take so many pictures anymore. I used to. I took thousands of them. But the kids have mostly grown up and moved away. Our friends’ kids have, too, though I guess that goes without saying. Maybe all it is is vanity, is that I don’t look the way I once did.
These are the kinds of small truths that interest me these days. I’ve got no time, really, for the larger ones, for the eternal tabulations, the final settling of scores or the evening out of unpaid debts and unrecompensed generosities.
I might attend, in my weakest moments, to ghosts and clouds; I might fleetingly entertain the dark specter of ambition, but I don’t ever expect, for good or ill, to wake as if from a dream to discover I’ve somehow sprouted wings, though I can imagine well their burnished majesty, the feathers’ delicately hollowed spines, their soft shorn sheen.
I’ve got a hundred memories with which to fill each ever-duller instant as age overtakes me – a hundred times a hundred, actually, so endlessly minute are the divisions by which the past can be conceived: a speck of salt in a single line of the dozens there where my wrist folds into my arm, one finger gently pressed into the tar of our street’s patched cracks the very summer I notice my shoulders’ strange bony slope forward, new moles sprouting along my neck and arms, inconsequential blemishes of precisely the sort to reward, when he turns to regard himself in a shop window or car’s rearview mirror, a boy’s anguished searching gaze.
Sometimes, I like to say, days and days now pass without so much as a single glance at my own reflection. What I don’t declare are the consequences of such apparent indifference, the truths that unfurl like the delicate pale spikes of new leaves. You want me to innumerate them, I know, but I won’t do it. I care now, I admit, more about the cadences of speech than the content. It is a wonder to me how, in the whispered monologue intoning my life’s story, the declarative now gives way to the interrogative. Not Someday I am going to walk out of here free but What’s this in my eye? or What number would you like me to count to? or even The dull gray bird? This one lost dappled feather? This?